• Thursday, May 23, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Building Africa’s future workforce beyond the assembly line

Building Africa’s future workforce beyond the assembly line

By Ota Akhigbe

The future of work in Africa is upon us, driven by automation, AI, and the gig economy. Assembly lines and cubicles will fade as industries transform at an unprecedented pace. Imagine Kenyan garment factories deploying robots, Nigerian fintech startups leveraging AI assistants for streamlined data analysis, and young Rwandan entrepreneurs thriving in a project-based work environment.

Beyond technical expertise

The future workplace demands more than just technical expertise like coding or data analysis. These skills are now the expected foundation. To truly excel, professionals need the human-centric abilities that empower us to navigate complex situations with ingenuity and empathy. Machines lack this human touch. They cannot grapple with ethical considerations in AI implementation in South African healthcare or build trust among a multicultural engineering team in Senegal. The ability to inspire and collaborate effectively is what sets humans apart, and this, coupled with technical proficiency, is the recipe for success in Africa’s future workforce.

Read also: FG unveils plans to build skilled workforce

The essential toolkit

Critical thinking, problem-solving, and the ability to learn and adapt effectively are no longer just desirable traits; they are essential for survival in the 21st-century African workplace. Success hinges on the ability to dissect a problem, analyse data from diverse sources, and generate creative solutions that adapt to changing conditions.

A growth mindset is crucial. Lifelong learning, questioning assumptions, and embracing new ideas are essential for keeping up with the changing times.

The future workplace also thrives on collaboration, not solitary heroes. Success depends on forming strong, diverse teams. Imagine a young IT expert in Egypt working alongside a Nigerian data scientist and a Kenyan agricultural engineer to design a sustainable irrigation system. Their ability to achieve this lies not only in their technical expertise but also in their “soft skills.” They need to clearly communicate their ideas, actively listen to each other’s viewpoints, and find common ground despite their different backgrounds. This collaborative approach, where various perspectives and skillsets are leveraged, is what will drive innovation and success in the future of African work.

Read also: Blessing Adesiyan, dedicated to building a robust care infrastructure for today’s workforce

Sector-specific needs

While some soft skills are universally valuable, specific industries often prioritise certain strengths. In customer service, for example, clear written and verbal communication is essential, as is active listening and empathy to build trust and go above and beyond for clients. The IT sector demands critical thinking, problem-solving, and clear communication to handle complex technical issues and collaborate effectively with colleagues. For those in agriculture, communication is key for collaboration with farmers, distributors, and others throughout the food chain. Additionally, strong negotiation skills are crucial for securing fair prices for agricultural products.

Inspiring the future

Investing in leadership development is crucial for Africa’s future workforce. Educational systems can play a vital role by providing opportunities for young people to hone their leadership qualities. This could involve fostering initiative through project-based learning, encouraging decision-making through group activities, and nurturing a spirit of innovation by celebrating creative problem-solving approaches. Educational systems can empower young people to become the future drivers of progress and innovation in Africa by equipping them with these skills.

The ROI of soft skills

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) highlights the importance of soft skills training, and numerous studies support a clear connection between soft skills and positive business outcomes. Investing in young Africans’ soft skills is a smart business decision with a measurable return on investment (ROI).

From theory to practice

Soft skills, unlike technical certifications, can be honed and strengthened throughout one’s career. Here’s how we can all participate in this “Skills Quest”:

Governments: Revamp education curricula to focus on critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaborative learning, all essential soft skills.

Schools: Ditch rote memorisation and embrace methods like project-based learning and group work, which naturally develop communication and leadership abilities.

Businesses: Invest in mentorship programmes, soft skills training, and internships, equipping young professionals with the tools they need to succeed. Conduct needs assessments to identify the specific soft skills most desired by your teams. Make learning engaging and practical through workshops, simulations, and role-playing exercises. Reinforce learning through coaching, feedback, and performance reviews.

Individuals: Take ownership of your development by seeking out mentors, volunteering for leadership roles to gain experience, and consciously practising good communication skills in everyday interactions.

A collective effort:

We can cultivate a workforce with the soft skills necessary to lead the new African economy. This journey requires a collective effort, and the rewards are immense. We should prepare our workforce not simply to survive but to thrive in the uncharted territory of the future of work in Africa. This is a call to action for all stakeholders in Africa’s future. We should embrace the challenge and invest in the potential of our youth. We can create a workforce that is not only competitive but thrives in the dynamic world of tomorrow by nurturing both technical and soft skills.

About the Author

Ota Akhigbe is a results-oriented leader with over 15 years of experience driving impactful projects across various industries. She is passionate about Africa’s development and is a strong advocate for equipping the next generation with the skills needed to thrive in the evolving workplace.